NPR's Fresh Air: "Extremist" Author Silenced for Lack of "Moderate" OpponentBy Sam Husseini
Shortly after a favorable review of his book on Jewish settlers in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Zealots for Zion, appeared in the New York Times Book Review (1/10/93), Village Voice reporter Robert I. Friedman was invited to discuss the book on Fresh Air, an interview-format show distributed by NPR. The interview was taped on Jan. 27 and was to be broadcast later that day. Promos advertised the upcoming segment.
But Fresh Air never aired the interview. Friedman says he was told that some of the views he expressed, like saying that some settlers view Arabs as less than human, were "too extreme." According to Friedman, a Fresh Air producer told him that a "moderate" settler was needed to balance his views, and that one had already been interviewed, but turned out to be too extreme as well. The producers wanted a "moderate, reasonable" settler who wasn't a spokesperson -- and they wanted Friedman's help in finding such a settler, adding that they wouldn't air Friedman's interview if they couldn't track one down.
"They were looking for something that didn't exist," Friedman told FAIR. Nonetheless, after talking to his publishers at Random House, Friedman gave Fresh Air several settler contacts. But no sufficiently "moderate" settler was found. Fresh Air even called back to complain that one of the names Friedman gave them, like the one they found, was too extreme. Rather than viewing this as evidence for Friedman's thesis of widespread settler extremism and racism, Fresh Air decided to kill the interview with Friedman altogether.
Fresh Air executive producer and host Terry Gross said, "It's not that [Friedman's] political views were too extreme to air, but that he colored a couple of things in extreme ways." Gross said Fresh Air "needed a balance" to "statements like 'settling the Occupied Territories is a lunatic endeavor' and 'most settlers see Arabs as less than human.'... At some point you feel, maybe it's appropriate to call up a settler and have them express that in their own words, or have them take issue with it." But Gross noted that the settler she spoke to in a pre-interview "was very anti-Arab," adding that they didn't broadcast that interview because the settler was "out of focus."
NPR has recently come under attack as "anti-Israeli" by CAMERA (the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), a media watch group that challenges news reports deemed critical of Israel. CAMERA specifically criticized Fresh Air (Commentary, 1/93) for interviewing Seymour Hersh, Gloria Emerson and Leslie and Andrew Cockburn, claiming that authors "that fail to label Israel as the villain rarely if ever get an airing."
Gross denied CAMERA's pressure influenced her. She argued that "there's a difference between an editorial decision and censorship." Gross wanted to have the settlers' view to "help bring the interview to life." But after two interviews failed to yield a settler who was sufficiently focused, she determined that "it wasn't worth putting more time into."